The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 23, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Stay calm to beat boredom

By Sarah Coyne
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Now that school is officially out for the summer, it's occurring to me that there will be a lot of time to fill.

Part of me wants to cram it full of activities and summer-bucket-list ideas, with reading schedules and math practice. But that's only the part that's afraid of what might happen to the moods of some bored kids on hot days.

I'm hoping my cooler head will prevail, leaving plenty of time for free play and exploring; for lounging, mess-making and imagining; for mindless wandering. That's what summer is supposed to be about, in my opinion.

I'm not opposed to boredom in general. I think boredom can breed some of the best creativity and self-directed play. What I am opposed to is my own irritated reaction to the whining that sometimes accompanies boredom.

Like many parents, I begin to take it personally when my kids come to me with the universally dreaded "I'm bored!" complaint. I hear their statements of boredom as condemnations of my parenting abilities. It becomes a thorn in my side. Am I letting them down by not providing plenty of ways to grow and enjoy life?

As it turns out, I'm not. And when we parents can learn some appropriate responses to our children's boredom, we'll be helping them while also helping ourselves.

Instead of telling them all the fun things they could be doing, or suggesting that they help us with chores (my personal favorite), we should be more simplistic.

There's no need to rush in with ideas. Let them squirm. I promise, the whining will subside, as long as you stay calm and detached. Or maybe your calm will help you ignore the whining. Either way, you win.

For those times when you can spare a few minutes to talk through your children's distress, your loving empathy can actually give them just the boost they need to find an activity.

Sometimes boredom is less about being bored and more about being lonely. If a few minutes of attention and conversation can buy you an entire afternoon of busy kids, it's worth it.

When the kids are bouncing off the walls with cooped-up energy, pull out your bored list. Because you've got your ducks in a row (right?), this list will have already been written up before the moment of reckoning.

You will have brainstormed with your kids a few dozen activities they can undertake without your direct involvement. Write down everything they suggest, forming a kid-approved encyclopedia against boredom. Then, if your patient understanding has still left them circling your ankles helplessly, the list is ready. Voila.

And when it comes down to it, I believe in the power of a few well-placed daily or weekly routines to lure the inevitability of boredom away. The promise of future plans can destroy endless boredom with nothing other than hope.

As long as our entire summer isn't scripted and scheduled, I'll feel good about maintaining a few helpful routines for the sake of our collective mental stability.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.